Ex-Students “Angry” Over Financial Services Miscommunications

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By Ray Walsh
News Co-Editor
Published: September 24, 2009

Students who have decided to transfer out of Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) say they experienced a significant amount of confusion in dealing with FCLC’s Office of Financial Services.  Some students were not able to get financial aid in time, while others received financial aid even after transferring to other colleges.

Many of these students found it difficult to get in touch with the Office of Financial Services.

“I called them every day and I would just get the run-around. I’d get transferred over and over,” said Nick Plosko, formerly a member of  the FCLC class of 2012.

Plosko began filing for financial aid in February. “I was pretty much just waiting to hear from Fordham, and then, finally, in the summer, when I wasn’t hearing anything, I called them,” he said. “They told me I was missing one of the documents, so I went ahead and did that, and I just never heard back. I would call Fordham and they would tell me that they were processing it.”

Plosko said he called the Office of Financial Services “every day” from the middle of July until Sept. 2. “Every time I called the financial aid office, they would just tell me that they were processing it. I’d call again and they would still be processing it until it was too late; then they were just like, ‘Okay, we’ll get you unenrolled,’” he said. Plosko is now attending his local community college in Texas.

Gabrielle Bernard, formerly FCLC ’12, had a similar experience. “I was told when I was touring Fordham in high school that financial aid was going to be available for everyone. I was told that if you have the grades, you could go to the school you want,” she said.

Bernard said that when she realized that she could not pay the tuition with the financial aid she had already received, she appealed for more. She described her experience contacting the Office of Financial Services: “It took a lot to get in touch with people; it was a lot of hearing the same thing over and over again… I was emailing them, but I just wasn’t getting a response.”

Bernard said that, when she got in touch with Financial Services, “they just looked at me in the face and said no. They said there was nothing they could do.”

Bernard said she received her financial aid packet the last week of May, but by then, she had already made her decision to transfer. “If I had gotten it sooner, I would still be going to Fordham,” she said, “I got it and was just like, ‘Where was this packet a few weeks ago?’”

Christina Joubert, formerly FCLC ’12, received financial aid without asking for it. After a rejected appeal for more financial aid, Joubert decided to transfer to Hunter College in February. However, on Sept. 9, she was surprised by a letter she received from the Office of Financial Services.

“I’m not sure what happened. I got a letter in the mail with a giant scholarship, even though I’m clearly not attending anymore. I don’t know why it came, I don’t know what that is,” said Joubert. “It’s weird because I asked them for more financial aid and they were just like, ‘no.’ But this is $7,000 more than I got last year, a total of over $25,000.”

“Things like this happen. We go to great lengths to avoid it, but it happens,” said Peter Stace, Ph.D., vice president of enrollment at Fordham. According to Stace, the enrollment group, which oversees the Office of Financial Services, is doing everything possible to avoid student confusion. “You might have your FAFSA in, but then we might need this thing or that thing, and the pursuit of getting that information may lead to delays,” he said.

Stace said that, depending on the average number of calls for a particular day, the enrollment group will have anywhere from four to 25 people answering calls for admissions, financial aid, student accounts and the registrar.

“It’s kind of based in that notion of a one-stop shop; one person is able to answer all those different phone lines,” Stace said.

Of those on call, Stace said that there are usually six to eight people “specializing in financial aid.”

“At 4:00 p.m. on a Friday, when everyone is doing something else, maybe we’ll have four people, but on Monday mornings we’ll have 25. This is all depending on what the history has been. There are times when we max out, and then the call volume builds, and people wait,” he said.

According to statistics compiled by the enrollment group, the volume of calls to enrollment services is 172,000 annually—of these, an average of 8 percent are “abandoned.”

“Depending on how busy it is, you may go directly to a specialist in financial aid. But if it’s busier, then the call kind of gets triaged out. If it’s a specialized call, then the caller gets transferred; it’s a direct hand off,” Stace said.

Stace said that he understands the troubles students are having with financial aid. “I don’t want to minimize how frustrating it is to students, but people [in financial services] make tough decisions and do what they feel they need to do…In the course of this past year, the number of appeals for financial aid was up about 25 percent—over 1200 students. We expended about $4.2 million in aid to assist students who needed more than what they had previously,” he said.

According to Stace, there are many factors considered in determining how many people to hire to answer calls. “This isn’t to minimize the hardships that folks go through. It’s real, and I wish we could do more. I see the call volumes rise, and I know people are waiting and I know calls are being dropped, but we don’t have anybody else to put on it. It’s a question of economics. Could we hire more people to answer phones? Yeah. But then it would just raise the cost of the operation. It’s a tradeoff and it’s a delicate one. How much waiting is too much? How much money is too much to avoid people having to wait? Have we got it right? I don’t know, but we’re close,” he said.

For confidentiality reasons, Stace could not comment on the individual cases mentioned, but he provided an explanation for Joubert’s experience. “If a student withdrew sometime during the spring term and then there is some activity with respect to the fall term and we’re ambiguous about whether they are coming back or not, we will make the call and offer them a financial aid package. If they follow through and return to school, then the package is there. If they don’t, then the money doesn’t get expended and it’s available to help other students. We err on the side because there is no expense to the university,” he said.

However, ex-students still say they feel let down by financial services. Plosko said, “To be honest, I am really angry at Fordham for pretty much ruining my college plans. I had fully expected to come back this year. I had my class schedule and I was ready to declare my major. I didn’t realize that Fordham wasn’t going to be an option this year. I’m not even going to a university this year, and, I mean, I might be going to a local university in the future, but I don’t even know about that.”

Joubert still respects Fordham, but said that she hopes that FCLC can offer more financial aid in the future. “I think Fordham is a good school,” she said, “I just don’t think anything is worth that much money if they don’t take into account your personal situation.”